Drinking poisonous water leads to cancer and other things that will kill you. Everyone knows that, but what if you do not know you are drinking water contaminated with poison? Surely such a thing cannot happen. Laws and regulations exist, and the government protects people. Unless the government knew about the poisonous water and covered it up for decades. If you doubt this, then ask the possibly one-million people who drank the poisonous water surrounding the Camp LeJeune superfund site. Or at least you can ask the ones who were not killed.
Heart of the Matter. The Camp LeJeune superfund site is the worst water contamination site in United States history, and it has poisoned an estimated one million people. While water contamination cases become rather wonky with many jargony terms thrown around, from the 1950s through at least 1985, the water in and surrounding Camp LeJune tested between 240 and 3,400 times over what is permitted by safety standards. In fact, a 1980 handwritten report that showed the water was heavily contaminated was sent to Marine command at the base. They ignored it.
From that flowed a comedy of errors, lies, and conveniently omitted facts. For example, a 1984 report found the contamination rate to be 38 per billion, but it was really 380 parts per billion. Apparently, zeroes do not matter to the government when it suits them. While there were a dizzying number of chemicals involved, benzyne, one of the worst, which causes myeloid leukemia, was omitted altogether from a 1994 report. Quite frankly, the matter was not fully addressed legislatively until President Obama signed a 2012 law that allowed victims of the poisoning to recover their medical expenses. A federal court previously blocked many of the cases as barred by the statute of limitations, and it also halted the North Carolina General Assembly’s effort to extend the statute of limitations.
How does this impact you personally? What if you live somewhere else far away from North Carolina? Why should you care? Ever read the book A Civil Action or seen the movie? That was a water contamination case that occurred in Massachusetts decades ago where people were poisoned and died. In other words, it can happen to anyone because we all need water, which is vulnerable to pollution.
Just look at the so-called “water hack” that occurred in Florida earlier this week where a hacker broke into economical (cheap) remote software used to manage the local water supply. This is still being sorted out, but it shows how vulnerable the water system is and how cheap infrastructure endangers everyone in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”
What can you do about this? Camp LeJeune’s water contamination rate of 380 parts per billion happened, but that does not mean it has to happen again. But it will continue to happen if people ignore the problem and stay ignorant. Read about the environment. Join groups dedicated to protecting the environment. Refuse to purchase products and services from businesses that do not use environmentally safe procedures and practices. Most importantly, vote for candidates who will help pass legislation that protects drinking water and the environment in general.
- Read a book about water contamination (A Civil Action is a good one to start);
- Learn about companies and nonprofits (especially those who advocate for planting trees) that are environmentally friendly;
- Pay attention to stories and news about the environment;
- Only vote for people who value laws and regulations that protect the environment;
- If something doesn’t look or taste right with your own tap water, report it to your town or county water facility immediately.
Water should not be poisonous, but some of it is. That does not mean, however, all water must be toxic. People can make a difference, and they must before it is too late.
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